Tag Archives: the hobbit

Ted Leo is a Hobbit Nerd

Last night during The Both’s performance at the Mohawk in Austin, Aimee Mann revealed a fact about Ted Leo that I was unaware of. “Ted is a Hobbit nerd,” she announced during one of their many moments of mid-set banter. This proclamation caught my attention because I happen to also be an avid fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work (I’ve been known to show up randomly at friends’ houses dressed as Gandalf, although I’ve never left any marks on their doors). While Mann threw out this detail about Leo as a little jab, he wore the “Hobbit nerd” label with pride the remainder of the show, revealing more and more of his nerdom with each passing song. Here are some facts I learned about Leo and his vast knowledge of Middle Earth:

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Road Trip 2008: Day 15-16, Honest Abe and the Cave Dwellers


That is the dangerous part about caves: you don’t know how far they go back, sometimes, or where a passage behind may lead to, or what is waiting for you inside.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

We left O’Dell’s, obviously in a merry mood, and began our return trip to Omaha. Along the way we planned to stop in Laramie, Wyoming, where Paul attended college for a year. We also figured we’d stay in Paul’s hometown of Lyman, Nebraska for a few days to get some R and R. That evening, our drive north flew by, probably due to a combination of inebriation and the TurboNegro blaring from the speakers (I bought a re-issue of “Ass Cobra” at Wax Trax in Denver).

A song named “Hobbit Motherfuckers”? Yes please:

When we reached Laramie, storm clouds stared us down in the distance. We had a choice to make: get a hotel or risk it in the wild. With neither of us being decision makers, we opted to go to the grocery store to feed our growling stomachs. Our hunger actually made our lodging decision for us with me craving hotdogs and Paul’s appetite for chunky soup – in order to appreciate both of these camping staples, we would need a campfire.

After loading up our cart with processed food, I sauntered into the liquor store next door to check out the beer selection – my buzz from the afternoon of perusing breweries was beginning to wane. Besides, we hadn’t drank any during our night’s camping, and with this being our last outdoor excursion, I decided we needed to celebrate our extraordinary trip with a beer and a campfire. In the cooler I found rows of familiar faces on the labels of six packs. Each label, like photographs, brought me back to the experiences from the past few weeks: Snake River and the snobby snow bums, Bozone and the mutt puppies, Left Hand and our drunken conversations, O’Dell’s and the gum chewing douche, and Grand Tetons where we were treated like kings. I decided upon Grand Teton’s Workhorse, recalling the refreshing American wheat we enjoyed over a week ago in Idaho.

Fully loaded on food and “supplies” we headed toward the outskirts of town where Vedauwoo was located, a state park comprised of rock formations resembling mountain sized gobs of dried bubble gum on God’s headboard. As we drove down the gravel road leading up to the park we passed a sign that read “Closed Due to Bug Spray”. Paul continued driving toward the parking area, so I spoke up.

“Um, dude, I don’t think we’re supposed to be in here.”

“Why not?” he asked.

“Well, that sign said they are spraying for bugs.”

“Good thing we’re not bugs,” he responded, pulling into a parking spot. He had a point…I think.

We got out of the car and the air didn’t smell poisonous, so I followed Paul to the back of the car to load our packs for the last time. After grabbing food, tent, and sleeping bags, I wrapped four beers in a sweatshirt and placed them in the bag. With packs strapped to our backs, we walked a winding path that led us through the scattered rock formations. They looked almost fake, like something out of an old Star Trek episode.

"Star Date 312.882. The atmosphere on planet Vedauwoo seems to be poisoned by a drug killing agent. Live long and prosper bugs. Beam me up Scotty!"

We walked for a while, searching for a camping spot. With the dark clouds still threatening in the distance, we found a large rock that had a sloping overhang, perfect shelter from the storm. But just as I turned to take my pack off, Paul was walking toward the largest mound of rocks, apparently looking for a better shelter. I followed him from a distance, and finally caught up as he was crawling through gnarled branches that led to a crevice between the enormous boulders at the foot of the mound. Soon, he disappeared into the darkness of the cave. I stood in silence for a moment, awaiting his return.

“Dude! This rules!” Paul’s voice echoed from out of the opening. We had found our campsite.

I followed Paul’s trail of broken branches and entered the cave he discovered. Inside it felt cozy, although I couldn’t stand straight up; actually, I had to walk on my knees the majority of the time. Sure, there wasn’t much headroom, but what does that matter when you’re sleeping? After accessorizing our humble abode with sleeping bags and firewood, I grabbed Dharma Bums and told Paul I was going to go read before the sun set. I knew I’d be cramped up in the cave all night and should appreciate the freedom of the open range before bed.

I meandered between the rock formations for a bit, admiring Mother Nature’s grand sculptures. I finally came to a stop when I found the perfect reading spot atop a rock that stood around 10 feet tall. I crawled up the angled side of the rock and sat on the flattened top like a Zen Buddha. I tried reading but couldn’t help spacing off, staring out into the great western horizon, the sun slowly saying goodbye to another fruitful day. I sat there for an hour in a blissful haze, entranced by the skies pastel beauty.

 

"It is better to travel well than to arrive." -Buddha

When the wind picked up, I decided to head back to camp. Nearing the entrance of our little home, I could see the glow of a fire, shadows dancing upon the sides of nearby rocks, smoke crawling sneakily out the cave entrance. I entered to find Paul near the back, toking a fire and setting a soup can into the pulsating embers.

I went straight to my pack and pulled out some hotdogs and a couple bottles of Workhorse Wheat. Popping the top off the bottles and placing a couple hotdogs on a stick, I sat down next to Paul and relaxed with the flames at my feet. I’ve sat next to many campfires and bonfires, but none quite compares to the fire that night inside our cave. Paul and I raised our beers and took a sip commemorating our last night of camping.

Once again, our conversation led to The Hobbit, prompted by our stay in a cave which reminded me of Bilbo and the dwarves in the Misty Mountains. I knew we wouldn’t get attacked by goblins, but I questioned whether we might be sleeping in a mountain lion’s den. When asked, Paul responded, “Maybe.” This didn’t put me at any more ease. With the soup cans steaming and hot dogs bubbling we pulled our food from the flames and enjoyed our hearty meal by fireside. Hotdogs have never tasted better.

We sat there for another hour, eating, drinking, and laughing.

Not much head room, but who needs standing room when you've got a Workhorse Wheat?

When the bottles went dry and the fire died down, we decided to head to our cave floor beds to catch some Zs. The mouth of the cave lay right in front of me and for the first night all trip there was a full moon shining down on us. I laid there for a while just starting at its brilliance, nature’s last big show, bidding us farewell in the only way Nature can.

 

"See you next summer, douche bags!"

The next morning I awoke all a shiver. The stone floor felt like a slab of ice beneath my back. I dug into my pack, pulling out a sweatshirt and my trusty BloodRayne hat. I wrapped up in my sleeping bag, letting the heat envelope me. Once the sun peaked over the rock terrain, we packed up camp for the final time and headed back toward Laramie in search of a coffee shop. Our search didn’t last long since Paul knew the layout of the town pretty well. Inside the antique building we ordered up breakfast and took a seat at a large wooden table fit for King Arthur and his knights.

When we finished our hearty breakfast, we headed over to the University of Wyoming store in search of some Cowboy gear. I’ve always felt Wyoming has the coolest colors in college sports: tan and brown. I’ve loved the color combo so much that numerous years I’ve coached the Cowboys on EA’s NCAA Football for PS2. My last coaching stint ended when I realized there was a glitch in the game that wouldn’t allow teams from the Mountain West Conference to compete for the national title, even when I pumped up their non-conference schedule.

When Paul transferred to Laramie, I always asked him to get me a cowboy t-shirt which he never followed through on. But there we were in a store adorned wall to wall in the tan and brown. While Paul looked at sweat pants, I scoured the t-shirt racks, but nothing jumped out at me. The brown basketball jerseys looked like something I might wear to the gym, but then I realized they were women’s and I decided against them. I eventually left the store empty handed.

Our plan was to visit the town’s brewery, Altitude Chophouse, but it didn’t open until noon. With it only being 10, we had some time to kill. Paul suggested giving me a tour of the Wyoming campus, which I thought sounded like a great plan. We pulled into a parking lot located outside War Memorial Stadium, the same field I coached so many digital football teams to victory on. As we got out of the car we noticed a beautiful blond leading a group of business-looking men out of the gate to the stadium.

We watched her walk away, and then noticed she left the gate wide open. JACKPOT. Coach Schroeder would finally set foot on the hallowed ground he once ruled upon with an iron fist. We started off slowly approaching the unmanned gate but progressed to a speed walk. Once we reached the entrance, I gave a quick glance around the premises for security. Seeing the coast was clear, we made our stealthy entrance. Walking toward the track I felt overcome by the immensity of the stadium. Who knew a school of Wyoming’s size would have such a grand football stadium, especially considering how perennially bad they are in football.

 

Oh, the stories I could tell of the classic games played on this field in an alternate video game universe.

I stepped onto the field, feeling the cozy astro-turf beneath my flip flops and then decided to venture up into the stadium seats. Like children we ran up the stairs to the tip top, getting a complete view of the entire empty field that reminded me of “Rudy” when the black janitor dude first showed him Notre Dame Stadium. Paul suggested we head to the opposite corner of the field to explore the athletic facility located right outside the gate. Along the way, we came upon a giant cowboy boot statue decked out in Wyoming brown and tan. In true senior picture form, I asked Paul to take a picture of me posing by the boot.

Coach Schroeder posing on a giant cowboy boot: classic.

After my photo shoot, Paul approached the door of the building, gave it a tug, and we were instantly unauthorized personnel roaming the halls of Wyoming’s Athletic Facility. We walked down the hallway, lined with large circular windows that you’d find in a submarine, descending gradually until we had completely entered the bowels of Wyoming. Suddenly, a pack of four volleyball players came around the corner. They obviously had just finished a workout with their red faces dripping in sweat. Both of us stiffened but continued walking nonchalantly down the hall. As we passed, the girls smiled and said “Hi!” in unison. We replied with a greeting and continued on our way, shocked that they weren’t alarmed by two scraggly bearded men roaming through the athletic facilities. Who did they think we were? Coaches? Students? Or future recruits?!

Whatever the case, I didn’t care; we had passed our first security test. We continued down a silent corridor, entered a practice volleyball court, and crossed the court to enter the darkened wrestling room. We roamed the room with Paul pointing out the different workstations, including a foam mannequin bolted to the wall. Paul tried explaining how you wrestling a mounted foam doll, but it still didn’t make sense.

He led me through the weight room and into the wrestler’s locker room. I’d only seen a locker room of its quality in movies or Spurs Championship videos. The lockers stretched around the plush room, filled with leather couches, white boards lining the walls, and large wooden lockers with name tags.

 

I wish I had taken a picture of the foam wrestling wall dummies. Instead, I just got a picture of this human dummy.

Spotting the bathroom stalls near the back, I told Paul I needed to take a piss quick. I stepped into the stall and began urinating when I heard a noise behind me. I glanced back thinking I’d see Paul; instead I spied a gentleman in a suit, looking at himself in the mirror as he washed his hands. He looked like a coach or at least someone with power to crush a couple scruffy intruders. He turned his head in my direction so I quickly ducked down. CRAP! He had to hear me. I knew it. I was so fucked. I felt like Marty McFly hiding in Biff’s backseat, except I wasn’t whispering loudly into a walkie-talkie.

I stood still, then heard the man begin pulling paper towels…maybe he didn’t see or hear me? I remained completely quiet, listening to the man dry his hands, wondering where Paul had gone. He had been in the locker room. How did the guy not see him?

I remained as motionless as a wall wrestling dummy, waiting for the sound of a closing door. The sound of hand drying came to a stop, and there was a silence all throughout the restroom. He had to know I was there. I started thinking of excuses, knowing this was probably a wrestling coach who could whoop my ass if needed. Just as I was about to peek over the partition again, I heard the snap of the door handle. Phew. I zipped up, pushed open the door, and headed out the mystery door the man didn’t exit. I came out to an empty hallway and began running toward the nearest exit. Mid-sprint I heard a voice yell, “Stop!” Oh no, I was done for!

I turned to see a smiling Paul walking toward me. “Why are you running?” He asked with a grin.

“Where the hell did you go?” I asked, heaving for air.

“I was just sitting in the locker room…you’re fucking stupid.” He said laughing. I followed him out the door, feeling a bit dumb, and returned to the car. Whoever the guy was, he had seen Paul and thought nothing of it. In the car we saw the clock read 11 o’clock, beer time.

Paul quickly located the brewery downtown and we moseyed in to an empty bar. I guess 11 isn’t happy hour in Wyoming. We ordered up a sampler and sat back to watch some Sportscenter, catching up on all the world happenings we’d missed during our trip. It was like we had entered an alternate universe: Elton Brand was now a Warrior, Baron Davis and Marcus Camby both Clippers, James Posey a Hornet, and Brett Favre was coming out of retirement.

The samplers came out, nine large sippers filled with a multitude of colors. We drank them down slowly in silence. I could tell we were both winding down from our trip, realizing it was coming to an end. None of the beers tasted as special as what we’d tasted the past few weeks. The wheat and porter were decent, but the positive reviews end there. The amber made me yearn for Madison River’s Irresistible Amber Ale; the stout made me wish we were still back at O’Dell’s drinking their specialty black brew.

We left an hour later, and headed toward Cheyenne where we were set to meet one of Paul’s high school friends for lunch. About 10 minutes outside of Laramie Paul asked me to stop at a rest area to take a whiz. When we got out of the car, I noticed a tall statue near roadside. After taking care of our business, we walked over to discover a giant Abraham Lincoln head peering down at us.

 

Abraham Lincoln + rest area = The Great Constipator

Staring up into the earnest eyes of Honest Abe, I was reminded of the first day of our road trip, driving across South Dakota arguing about who was the all-time best president. I would eventually learn about Teddy Roosevelt and his conservative ways – actually, I learned a lot over the past few weeks: music, beer, and most importantly, life. Although my opinion of Abe as the best president remains the same, I will forever be changed by our experiences on the winding roads of America.

"I claimed not to have controlled events, but have confessed plainly that events have controlled me." - Abraham Lincoln

 

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Road Trip 2008: Day 12-13, Hulk and Kong take on the Hipsters


“Chaos is a friend of mine.”
Bob Dylan

After hiking for a couple hours, we returned to the car and decided to get some lunch. Malcolm suggested Dairy Queen, and we both agreed that ice cream sounded tasty after our day out in the sun.  I ordered up some brownie/caramel mixture, Paul got a burger, and Malcolm ordered a quesadilla to go with his sundae.  I’m telling ya, the guy LOVES tortillas.

With our arteries clogged, we returned to his place for an afternoon nap.  Around five Malcolm headed out for a meeting with an acquaintance who was starting his own weight loss system a la Nutri-System.  He wanted to meet with Malcolm to help create an exercise program to coincide with the meals.  Once he left, Paul continued sleeping, so I tip-toed around the apartment, eventually plopping down at the computer to catch up on the rest of the world.  While reading the latest in the political rumor mill, I came upon an interview with John McCain where he compared himself to Teddy Roosevelt.  The link to this story ironically sat just above a story entitled “McCain says, ‘Drill Now!'”.  Would the Teddy that Paul introduced me to support such a thing?  Can you imagine the King of National Parks backing the destruction of the Artic National Reserve to drill for oil?

Thoroughly annoyed by politics, I turned back to Dharma Bums and read for the next hour.  When Malcolm got back he cooked us some quesadillas (yep…I think you get my point), but I’m not complaining.  They were some of the best quesadillas I’ve ever tasted.  They went great with a side dish of spinach.  After dinner Malcolm’s girlfriend arrived, a cute little, athletic blond with a cheery disposition.  We made small talk for about ten minutes, and then the couple mysteriously disappeared for the remainder of the night.

Paul decided to put in a DVD from Malcolm’s video library that consisted of 15 Arnold Schwarzenegger movies and King Kong.  We went with Kong, naturally.  An hour into the movie I began to doze off, and would continue waking up randomly to see Kong throwing raptors, giant bugs, and fighter jets.  Eventually, the eight hour movie came to an end, and I could finally sleep without waking to the sound of a howling ape.

I awoke to the smell of eggs for the second morning straight.  Instead of spinach this time, Malcolm doused our breakfast in salsa, huevos rancheros style.  We of course used tortillas to sop up the spicy goodness.  With it being a Monday, Malcolm had to return to his gym to train old ladies and high schoolers.  We slummed around his place for an hour, and boredom was finally starting to set in (as I’m sure boredom is setting in with this blog you’re reading…).  Staying at Malcolm’s had been a nice, rejuvenating break from our adventures (I would compare it to Bilbo’s stay at Beorn’s in The Hobbit), but I yearned to be back out on the road, exploring mountainsides and sampling new and exotic beers.  To pass the time, Paul re-entered Malcolm’s testosterone fueled DVD library and chose “True Lies” I would have preferred “Kindergarten Cop”, but anything was better than sitting around the apartment in silence.

"Stop whining! You lack discipline!"

I grabbed my book and began reading.  While trying to read, my concentration kept getting interrupted by Paul’s raucous laughter.  Not remembering “True Lies” as a comedy, I began to watch and soon realized that Paul would laugh at anything Tom Arnold said.  Midway through the film he turned to me and said, “Dude, Tom Arnold is my new favorite actor!” and I knew he wasn’t joking.

Soon I joined in on the fun, not laughing at Arnold’s cheesy dialogue, but more at Paul’s complete amusement in Tom’s hacky one-liners. Afterwards, Paul asked, “Did Schwarzenegger and Tom Arnold ever make any other movies together? They were hilarious.”

“Uh, I don’t think so…” I replied.

“Damn dude, I love the Tom Arnold Schwarzenegger connection!”  Paul’s new found affection for early 90s Tom Arnold movies is just an example of what I love about the guy: due to his sheltered childhood he often makes discoveries about commonly known 90s pop culture.  There’s something intriguing about a guy who is an expert about 70s Kraut Rock yet knows nothing about Kriss Kross and Milli Vanilli.

Pleased with his morning film, Paul decided to take another nap.  I grabbed my book and tried reading, but became more and more annoyed that we weren’t out doing something. I wanted to scream, “This is a vacation! A road trip!  Let’s get outta here!” At the same time I felt guilty about my negative thoughts, knowing Paul just wanted to spend some time with his college buddy.  Plus, I knew we would be leaving soon.  That night we had plans to see HEALTH in Denver.  Since I had already seen HEALTH three times at SXSW, I became even more antsy thinking about the upcoming show.

Around four Paul began moving.  We finally escaped the monotony of the day around five, heading north on interstate 83.  While Paul napped, I had mapped out a path for us to hit a few breweries on our way up to the show, a bar crawl meets yellow brick road approach to our evening.

 

The Wizard of Buzz

Our first stop was the Dry Dock in Aurora, a tiny brewery nestled in the middle of a mini-mall.  Inside, the bar was dinky.  The bar and stools took up half the room, allowing little space to move around.  The brewing vats loomed over us from behind a makeshift wall.  We plopped down at the bar.  Despite the meager space, there was still a crowd at five on a Monday.  Everyone seemed to know one another, creating a friendly, “Cheers”-like vibe.

Drydock was "Cheers" meets "The Hunt For Red October"

I ordered a barley wine and Paul got a vanilla porter.  My barley wine tasted ancient, in a good way.  All the distinct flavors nurtured over years of fermentation intertwined on my tongue.  Paul’s porter tasted just as godly, a perfect mix of malt and hops with a smooth hint of vanilla in the aftertaste.  I asked if I could buy a growler of the barley wine so I could share it with friends back home.  Being such an aged relic, the bartender regretfully told me no.  Disappointed, I settled on a growler of the porter.  We stayed for another hour, trying several other tasty beers.  Looking back, I’m still amazed at the quality of the beers in such a little shit hole of a brewery.

Feeling invigorated by the quaint brewery’s quality thirst quenchers, we left in search of Bush and Bull Brewery, a British pub located in down town Denver.  Lost amidst the downtown traffic we somehow found the little brick building with all the British trappings, including a bright red phone booth out front.  The authenticity continued inside with British memorabilia and historical newspaper clippings lining the walls. The wooden planks of the floor were crooked and aged, and behind the bar a wall of over a 100 types of scotch hung proudly.  They even had a party room entitled the “Jury Room” with twelve stools placed neatly around a wooden table.  Later, while taking a pee, I read a USA Today article on the wall that placed Bush and Bull in the top 10 pubs in the United States.

They had 12 micro-brews on tap with a majority of them being kept in un-refrigerated barrels – warm beer, British style. We drank several beers during our visit; all of them were brimming with a strong malty flavor found in most British brews. Paul seemed to love each beer that touched his lips. While I appreciated their faithfulness, I was more in the mood for a American style beer like Dry Dock had to offer.

Since our last meal had been breakfast, we ordered a plate of lamb-chop skewers with a curry dip.  Our plate featured two measly skewers, but no other meal on our trip would taste quite as scrumptious. We thought about sticking around for more lamby goodness, but the HEALTH show started in 30 minutes.  We said “Good day” to the bartender and headed back out into the Denver traffic.

Around nine o’clock, north of down town, we finally found Rhinoceropolis, a tiny art studio in an industrial neighborhood.  At the door we paid five dollars to a new wave looking kid who stunk of body odor.  Once inside, we discovered we were two of ten in attendance.  We sat a while, staring at the empty room, when I finally asked a nearby raver when the bands would start playing.  When he told me HEALTH started at 11, I told Paul we should go check out another brewery and then come back.  He seemed unsure about my idea, but finally agreed.

Breckenridge Brewery, a well known microbrewery sold nationwide, was located right outside Coors Field, an obvious pre/post game drinking hot spot.  Unfortunately, with the All-Star Game in New York that same weekend, the entire baseball district resembled a ghost town.  This included the inside of Breckenridge, the biggest brewery we visited yet, and the most empty.  We bellied up to the pristine bar and ordered a couple beers, both of which were just as lifeless as the bar scene that night.  We both grimaced in pain with each gulp, but continued forcing down the putrid brew.  It irritated me to think their horrid concoctions were sold nationwide while amazing breweries like Madison River remained relatively unknown.

After taking our daily dose of poison, we hurried back to Rhinoceropolis.  When we returned, we found the art studio now packed wall to wall with skinny hipsters, mostly teenagers nodding their heads hypnotically to some noise/metal/art band.  In the cramped room, the heat and humidity enveloped us.  Realizing I wouldn’t survive long, I ran out to the car quick to grab a bottled water to bring back in with me.  I knew I wouldn’t get in trouble; most people inside brought their own beer.  The atmosphere reminded me a lot of little punk rock shows my friends and I used to attend in high school.  Some kid named Jake from Fairmont, Minnesota would somehow get punk bands to play at his house to a bunch of unsupervised teenagers.

Back inside, I listened to the end of some disco/crap band, and then made my way toward the front of the stage to await HEALTH.  The band came out and set up their gear quickly.  It amazes me how a little band like HEALTH can set up their gear in mere minutes, while national stadium touring bands, with roadies and all, take over an hour to prep for a band.

 

The show sharpened me for a bit of the ol' ultra-violence

When the band burst into their first song, “Heaven”, the crowd of teens instantly exploded into a mass of shoving, squishing, and sweating, all combining into a cluster-fuck of mass confusion.  Before I knew it, Paul had disappeared and I was alone up front, fending for myself as the bounding drums toked the flames of fury in the audience.  Chaos.  It’s the only word to describe what I found myself caught up in – and I loved every minute of it.

Soon the mass of swinging arms and falling bodies pushed toward the stage; equipment fell, yet the band went on.  Something in HEALTH’s music brings out the tribal Neanderthal in me, and obviously others. There is nothing quite like a little bit of the ultra-violence. As skinny teens flew toward me, I’d raise my elbow and watch them bounce off like a pinball. My mind began to conjure up my dream images from the night prior of Kong throwing bugs effortlessly in every direction.

The songs continued pushing us forward, even when our energy waned.  I kept wiping the perspiration off my bald head, trying to avoid the inevitable dripping of sweat into my eyes.  At one point I looked down at my hands to find my fingers pruned like I had just spent the day at the swimming pool.  I felt like fainting from exhaustion, yet couldn’t stop moving to the magnetic music.  I soon found I wasn’t alone in my fatigue from the heat when a little hippie girl in front of me ripped her shirt off (no bra) and continued enjoying the music. This wasn’t your usual rock concert “flash” for attention.  This was a girl who was feeling hot and found a solution.  I commend her for her ingenuity.

The band finally brought a close to their passionate performance.  I turned around in search of Paul, but he came running to me first.  When he approached I said, “Great show, eh?”

He began tugging at my shirt, “Dude….we have to get out of here…” With Paul, it’s never a good sign when he rushes up and tells you that you have to leave.  We speed walked out the door and down the sidewalk; the entire way Paul glanced nervously back to see if some mystery hipster gang was chasing us.  Instead of being worried, I became excited knowing another great Paul story awaited me in the car.   We hopped inside the Element and he egged me on, “Go, Go, Go!”

Once blocks away from the Rhinoceropolis, Paul began giggling about what had went down inside, and then commenced telling his tale.  When the crowd got crazy, Paul made an exit to the back where he could see the band without worrying about flying elbows.  While watching the powerful performance, some schmo unexpectedly jumped on his shoulders, attempting to crowd surf, but in the process, aggravating Paul’s past wrestling injury.  This transformed Paul from a calm relaxed guy into an angry monster reminiscent of the Incredible Hulk (I’m sure the booming music also had something to do with the building anger).

When the same back jumper tried moshing into Paul moments later, throwing his elbow into Paul’s sternum, Hulk Paul reacted quickly, pulling back on the guys shoulder and laying down a hard right cross into his face.  The back jumper rolled to the ground and Paul retreated to a different section of the club to reconvene his viewing of the show without any troubles.  Five minutes later a few other guys approached Paul.

“Where you from man?” the kid up front asked.

“Nebraska,” Paul responded, with his Hulkian anger seething just beneath the surface.

“It’s not a good idea to start fights when you’re not from…” and just as he was about to spit out his threat, Hulk returned, pulling the kids legs up in a double leg takedown and raising his fist in a sign that he would strike if necessary.

“Sorry dude! I don’t have a problem man!  Was just wondering!”

Paul jumped off him and quickly disappeared into the crowd, hoping to be able to watch the last bit of the show in peace.  Of course, this didn’t happen. He found himself standing next to a skinny raver wearing a bright green sequenced hat.

As HEALTH played their loud, grinding music, this kid performed boy band-esque dance moves, spinning and performing arm gestures.  He kept looking back at Paul and others, in hopes they were enjoying his dance recital.  Paul wasn’t.  When the kid performed his third spin/hat grab/pose, Hulk Paul reached forward and pushed the raver’s face in disgust.  This occurred right about the time the last song came to a close, at which point Paul searched me out to escape the legions of hipsters in search of revenge.

With Paul’s story finished, we neared Parker where we were going to stay one more night.  We both laughed at our crazy evening, one more chapter in our summer adventure.  I thought about how earlier I yearned to escape Malcolm’s place to exert my pent up energy, and the HEALTH show provided the perfect avenue for the unbridled bedlam I had been searching for.

 

"You won't like me when I'm cranky!"

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1.Road Trip 2008, Day 1-2: WWJKD?

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Mark Twain

I was sitting on my parent’s deck, enjoying the intermittent glow of the Iowa lightning bugs and the smell of brats on the grill when my mom came outside with the phone in her hand.

“I think it’s Paul,” she said as she handed it over. Paul is my eccentric friend I met my junior year in college at Northern Iowa. Just a goofy little freshman wrestler at the time, crazy Paul kept my roommate Tony and I entertained with his juvenile antics. Of course, our constant goading and assistance in the debauchery department didn’t help matters. Those were great times, but unfortunately he transferred the next year to some community college in Kansas.  I don’t know whether he left because he became homesick for his western Nebraska hometown or if it had something to do with failing most of his UNI classes (I take some fault in his failure, always urging him to skip class so we could play “Mario Kart” or watch “Men In Black” the cartoon).

Instead of receiving his MBA from UNI, Paul got his MIB.

He would go on to attend four different colleges in four different states. After an eight year college career that resembled that of John ‘Bluto’ Blutarsky, Paul finally graduated the spring of 2008 with a degree in History and Spanish, hoping to become a teacher/wresting coach. His monumental graduation is what prompted the phone call on that calm summer night in mid-June.

“Dude, when are we going on this road trip? I finally graduated. We have to celebrate.” Since meeting Paul in 1999, he had been bothering me about taking a road trip through the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Wyoming. Two of those summers we weren’t able to take the trip due to Paul serving jail time for one of his many crimes: stealing cars, streaking, and of course a multitude of DUIs. These drunk driving excursions also led to several summers with no license, which would have resulted in driving the entirety of our road trip. Other summers I turned his master plan down due to prior plans or a fear of what unpredictable Paul would do. One summer I even passed up the opportunity to see Neil Young at Red Rock’s because I wanted to attend the wedding of Bobbi Bahr, a former high school classmate. To this day Paul curses, “I can’t believe you missed Neil Young for fucking Barbie’s wedding!”

Now that he had finally graduated from college, he found it absolutely necessary that this road trip come to fruition. He grabbed my interest by suggesting we visit micro-breweries along the way and go to a few concerts if possible (the key to my heart comes in a pint glass). These both enticed my nomadic side, but I still questioned whether he could actually afford the trip. I knew he owed Dana College $4000 dollars since he didn’t get financial aid his final semester, and I was privy to his mounting credit card debt, meandering just below the $10,000 dollar range. How could he ever afford a road trip with the outrageous gas prices?

I tried calming excited Paul down, saying, “Yeah, we can go, I just don’t want to make it too long. Maybe we should just hang around Colorado for a week or something, that way gas doesn’t kill us.” This was my nice way of saying, “You’re broke dude.”

“I want to go to Montana though! Montana!  Don’t worry about money, I just got paid $3000 dollars for being a lab rat.”

“What are you talking about?” I knew he wasn’t bluffing as images ran through my head of Loreal products being poured into Paul’s eyes.

“Yeah, I had to take Alzheimer pills for like two weeks and they monitored me and stuff. I’m good to go on money now. We can split the gas right down the middle; I’m not going to mooch off you or anything.”

"Now where did I put my razor..."

As we continued talking, I thought about how he should be using the lab rat money to pay off some of the money he owed. What was he thinking – a road trip amidst all this debt? Plus, being a newborn college graduate, shouldn’t he be using this time to find a job? I spent my entire first summer out of college lost in a sea of job fairs and applications.

I would have pointed these common sense ideals out to Paul if I knew I wouldn’t come across as a preachy douche. I told him I was all in for a road trip but reiterated the fact that driving to Montana may be a bit much. He asked me to keep thinking about it and we’d make a decision in a couple weeks when July arrived. I was off the hook for the moment, but I knew he wouldn’t forget about this trip; not with Montana dreams running through his head.

A few days later, he sent an email featuring a list of all the bands we could possibly see in Colorado and all the surrounding states. As I skimmed the list, I came to a sudden stop when I saw a name in the Montana section: The Dodos. Was this a ruse to get me to go with him to Montana? I had been raving to Paul about the greatness of the latest Dodos album “Visiter” for the past few months. To see if I was being had, I went to The Dodos MySpace and lo and behold, there it was:

July 4th- Bozeman, Montana at the VFW

I read it over and over again in shock. Dodos…Montana….VFW….4th of July…it was too good to be true. I looked up how many miles it would take to get to Bozeman from Omaha and the 1,000 miles didn’t settle well with me. I began to think about how we would pay for gas, which brought back thoughts of Paul’s money situation. Going to Montana and then down to Colorado would suck his lab rat money dry. What should a good friend do: look out for his pal by giving him advice on managing his money or aid his financial demise by joining him on a cross-country road trip? Is a true friend there for support or to join in on the irresponsible fun?

I mulled over this issue for another week. At one point, I wondered what my hero Jack Kerouac, the ultimate Bedouin, would do? WWJKD? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Paul is just like the character Dean Moriarty in “On the Road”, an athletic car thief who spent time in prison, has a mind jam packed with outlandish ideas, and is fascinated by raw, organic music that tests the limits (jazz in Moriarty’s time). Throughout the book, many of the characters around Moriarty find him offensive, rude, and mostly just trouble. But Sal Paradise, Kerouac’s alter-ego, loves Moriarty and his harum-scarum ways.

Sal could have told him it was time to grow up, settle down, and find a real job. But he didn’t, no matter what page of the book you are on. No, Paradise admired his childlike wonderment with the world so much that whenever Moriarty showed up on his doorstep with a big road-trip in mind, Paradise threw his writing to the wayside and joined his wild friend on another joy-ride.

Paul didn’t need me to be his mentor; he needed me to be a friend willing to hit the road without worrying about what lies ahead.

This realization came to me on July 1st, which meant we had little time to reach Bozeman, Montana by the 4th. I called Paul and let him know I was in on the Montana trip, but that we would have to heading out Thursday in order to reach Bozeman in time for The Dodos show. He was ecstatic. I figured out I could pay for the trip with the $600 dollars I got from my tax refund (Paul insisted the entire trip that I thank George W. for each beer I drank), and another $600 dollars from Paul’s friend Mando who bought my electric guitar. I knew with Paul’s lab rat money, we were both set.

"Beers are on me boys! Just put it on my tab."

The next morning I headed to Blair, Nebraska to pick up my comrade. We had planned to use the day for preparations, buying the necessary food and supplies. Once we arrived in Omaha, I took Paul to his friend Lindsey’s apartment where he planned to load my I-Pod with some of his choice cuts (Judas Priest and ACDC?!). After dropping him off I weaved through Omaha traffic to the Honda dealership to get an oil change. Then I had to go return to South O to pick Paul back up.  By the time we were at the grocery store searching for the granola aisle, I was fed up with all the driving and aimless wandering; I was ready to hit the road.

“This sucks dude. Let’s just leave now. We can get supplies as we go. I’m sick of all this traffic,” I complained.

“All of the camping food is going to cost more as we get closer to Montana. I’m ready to head out now too, but we have to get everything prepared.” These were wise words from a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants type of guy, but I couldn’t take it any longer.

“I know…I just hate the anticipation,” I conceded.

“Dude, it’s like ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’, you know, when there is like a hundred pages on the meeting in Rivendell.”

“Yeah, I hate that fucking part! I’ve never actually read past that part,” I scowled.

“Ahh!  You’re KIDDING! You’ve never even actually read the rest of Tolkien’s masterpiece?! YOU suck. Wow. That’s embarrassing. The entire Rivendell scene is there to set up the rest of the book. Right now, we are in Rivendell. We must prepare before heading out on our quest,” Paul answered annoyed. I didn’t respond. I guess I prefer The Hobbit with its simple premise of a treasure in a mountain. The dwarves arrive, sing a little song about a dragon, and they’re off. Simple, quick, painless.

By the time we did all of our shopping at various stores, we got back to Blair around 10 p.m. It was then that I realized I had forgotten my phone at Lindsey’s. Damn it! Paul called her up and she said she’d bring it over in the morning.

Completely exhausted from the day, I laid down on the couch, ready to pass out. Just as I was slipping into dream-land, the door to Paul’s apartment flew open, and a sweaty, stout little man with long greasy blond hair and a creepy moustache came bounding through the entry way like a Kramer stand-in, holding a giant can of Old Milwaukee.

In a crackly bark he shouted, “Where’s Paul?”

I sat up like a bolt. The room suddenly reeked like alcohol and cheap cigarettes. Why was there a strange homeless man in Paul’s apartment? Before I could answer, Paul walked out from his bedroom.

“Hey Gale! What’s up man!” Paul knew this guy? Before I could comprehend what was going on, the two had a conversation, none of which I understood, and then the homeless dude was gone.

“What the hell? You let that guy just walk through your door?! He could steal all your crap.”

“Nah, Gale’s a good guy. He lives upstairs and likes to stop by to hang out and drink a few beers,” Paul said as if it was commonplace.  I didn’t feel like arguing, but I did make it a point to lock the door after Paul went to bed. I knew better than to try understanding what had just occurred; Paul has always befriended a strange cast of characters (me included). I quickly fell asleep, cranky and drained from the long day of preparation. I still think Rivendell sucks.

The next morning Lindsey arrived with my phone bright and early, a sign that our day would be much better than the one prior. I started packing up the car while Paul cooked breakfast, when the door crashed open once again. Gale came stumbling in, now holding a giant can of Natural Light. “Wherez Pul?” he howled. He was still drunk or drunk again, not sure which. Without hesitation, Paul welcomed him in and sat talking to the belligerent fool for a while, even offering him a blueberry smoothie.

Gale took a seat next to Lindsey on the couch and began touching her hair. He whispered to her in a gravelly voice, “I like your hair…don’t ever cut your hair…I like loooong hair…it’s bootiful.” She smiled politely and scooted away from him. Like a four year old, his attention quickly shifted to our luggage. “Whar are ya goin Pul?”

Lindsey smiled wryly and said, “Him and Andy are going to Brokeback Mountain.”

“HA HA HA HA (cough cough) HA HA HA! BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN! HA HA HA!” I could hear the phlegm curdling in the back of his throat. Gale then stumbled toward the kitchen to kid Paul about Brokeback Mountain when he caught sight of me looking at him with both horror and disgust.

“What happ’nd to yer head? Where is yer hair? HA HA HA! (cough cough)” Paul began cracking up at Gale’s observation, which just egged the old drunkard on. “HA HA HA! Why don’t you grow sum fuckin hair man? Ha, ha, (cough, cough) Ha, HA! Shouldn’t he grow some hair Paul?” I put on a fake smile and went outside to continue packing the car.  I didn’t have time for this crazy kook.

I may not have as much hair as Gale (right), but at least mine is clean.

Paul later attempted to make me feel bad saying he thought Gale was a Vietnam vet. He of course had no proof to back up this claim; I think he just based it off the fact that Gale is always wearing 70s era clothing and seems to always be drunk.  If that’s all it took, Andy Dick would fit into the vet category.

After slurping up his smoothie, which dripped all over his already stained white shirt, Gale shouted, “I got something for ya Paul!” Two minutes later he returned with a carton of eggs and a handful of firecrackers. “Enjoy! These are for your trip to Brokeback Mount-tin, hehehe.” Paul tried explaining that we couldn’t take the eggs with us, but the lush didn’t understand and left feeling proud of his random act of kindness.

When he finally left it was almost 10 a.m. “Let’s get going!” I said in frustration.

“Okay, okay, okay!” Paul responded, setting the dishes into the sink. After filling the cooler with ice, we threw it in the back of my car and finally took to the highway. Our trip had begun. We had already hit a few bumps in the road, but I knew the perfect remedy for getting our trip rolling on the right foot: The Magnetic Field’s classic album “The Charm of the Highway”.

Soon the smooth baritone voice of Stephin Merritt filled the car as smiles crept onto our faces. With lyrics like “The world is a Motor Inn in the Iowa highway slum” and “Lonely highway, only friend, You’ve got me to keep you warm again”, I knew I had made the perfect musical choice. When “Sunset City” began thumping out the speakers, Merrit was singing for fools like us, throwing caution to the wind and hitting the road just for the hell of it:

Well I don’t care what people say
Life is too short to hang around
So I stay so long in a place
And then move on to the next town

And in the morning I’ll be gone
For other towns and other lives
I’ll catch the first train, bag in hand
And I won’t miss you, and you won’t cry

Oh Sunset City
I’ve got to see the world
Don’t hold me too tightly
Don’t whisper my name

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